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Reporting an abusive therapist

Carolyn Hax
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Dear Carolyn:

I was seeing a therapist for PTSD. This therapist laughed at me at inappropriate times, said weird things to me — including “[email protected]&% off” — spent a lot of time bragging about himself, and said he couldn’t help me and made it sound like it was my fault. I felt like I was a defective person. It took me months to finally decide to try to trust another therapist.

My new therapist is wonderful and would like me to file a complaint against the other one. But I feel it’ll be my word against his, as I’m quite sure he won’t admit to anything. And maybe he just didn’t like me and doesn’t do this to other people.

Am I obligated to report him in case he’s doing this to others? It’s very apparent he doesn’t know how to treat a trauma patient. He also does family therapy and works with alcoholics and drug addicts. Maybe he’s really good in those areas and I would be doing a disservice to those patients. I’m really torn.

— C.

Wait a minute. You’re suggesting it’s not worth a complaint if you’re the only one he harmed, and maybe it was your fault?

Oh, kind person. Please see your worth. Hurting you alone is enough.

This alone would be a valid focus of your therapy, to help you value yourself.

Also recognize your complaint won’t be what ends his career. A complaint starts a process, and that process will determine if the therapist himself has exercised judgment bad enough to destroy his own career.

It is so important to lay the responsibilities where they belong and not attempt to carry them all yourself.

As for whether it’s “my word against his,” that’s also an unnecessary focus on the outcome, which, again, is not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to tell the truth about his actions.

Other patients may also have filed complaints, or will soon, each strengthening the others.

Your wonderful new therapist can help you with all of this. You can also call the licensing board to ask what the process is; the one awful time I had to report suspected abuse (of an entirely different sort), I started by asking what, exactly, I was setting in motion. Knowing there were safeguards against triggering an unfounded catastrophe assured me it was safe to share what I knew.

And that’s all I did. I didn’t draw conclusions, fill in blanks, embellish, omit, or presume relevance. It was just: “[blank] happened and [blank] is how I know about it” and left it to those whose job it was to respond.

You have no “obligation” to do this, per se — but don’t discount the potentially therapeutic effect of removing even one of your burdens and putting it where it belongs.

•••

Dear Carolyn:

So, my ex and I were married for 32 years.

We received counseling for over two years before ultimately divorcing. I discovered two years later that my ex and our former therapist had been having an affair since probably before our divorce. I reported her, and her license was rescinded.

He’s still with her — she’s living rent-free in a house he owns, and still married to her husband. My grandson is exposed to these people often, and it’s killing me!

My daughter dotes on her father, and vice versa, and refuses to limit my grandson’s exposure to this situation. Any suggestions/ideas/ways for me to not kill them?

— C.

Yes. Stop doing this to yourself.

I understand they — your daughter included — committed the betrayal. I don’t minimize that. But you control whether and how you keep this betrayal alive.

Believing you can control your grandson’s exposure to your ex is one way you can keep feeding your own anguish forever.

Please don’t. You are well rid of him. Now your jobs are: (1) Live your own life; (2) Enjoy your grandson.

Obviously our worries don’t have “off” switches. But we often can think our way through them.

First, recognize your grandson anxiety is entangled with marital grief: The frustration over your unfixable past finds an outlet in visions of fixing his future. It’s a false promise, though, so it’s worth disentangling.

Second, flawed people can love grandchildren well. If your grandson appears to be flourishing, then it’s OK to accept that as assurance he is flourishing.

Third, as a grandparent, you have a protective role that’s quite narrowly defined. Should you witness any persistent problems — in his health, behavior, hygiene, whatever else flags trouble with a child — then you, nonjudgmentally and with acute attention to boundaries, can state what you’ve seen to his parents, unless it’s call-the-authorities serious. (The nonprofit Childhelp, 1-800-FOR-A-CHILD, is good for reality checks.)

Do you know what I just described, by the way? How to be the loving relative of a child you are not raising. Any relative. Any child. Any circumstances.

I do wonder, with apologies, if a good therapist would help with your anger; you were burned by corrupt people, not a corrupt profession.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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